The other day I caught an episode of I-Witness, which featured the children in the far-away Sitio Datalnay in Saranggani province. The most curious thing about the place is how appallingly similar all the children look—they’ve all got the same swollen cheeks, abnormally protruding bellies, and small, knobby arms and legs. Most of them are also too small for their ages.
They are all afflicted by kwashiorkor, a severe form of malnutrition that results from a diet excessively high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Indeed, that’s just about how poor the community is—they couldn’t eat anything other than the sweet potato and corn they grow in their yards. There are no livestock and poultry to speak of, unless you would count the occasional sickly-looking hog lurking under one of the huts and the small brood of chicks that couldn’t seem to find anything more worthy to peck in the barren soil than pebbles. And even then, the locals would just rather sell these animals downtown than eat them for their meals.
It is hard to imagine how the people of Sitio Datalnay ever manage to survive at all. For starters, they’re practically smack in the middle of nowhere—it takes at least ten hours to get there from the nearest town, nine of which you will have to spend trekking over muddy terrain. There are no roads at all, no electricity. Worst of all, there are no trees to shade you from the scorching sun. If you’re thinking it’ll be like plunging into some exotic rainforest, then you’ve got it wrong. For miles and miles around all the flora you’d see are wild shrubs, grasses and stunted trees. The mountains have probably already been logged in the 70s or 80s. You’d think that Saranggani should’ve grown rich from all the trees shaved off its mountains, but no, everything is just barren. There are no schools or clinics. There aren’t any churches. And the locals do not even speak Filipino, our national language! Kara David had to use an interpreter for all her interviews.
Sitio Datalnay is as close to rural poverty in the Philippines as you can get. Everything—from the local’s downtrodden looks, to the dry, arid land under their feet—screams of government neglect and abandonment. And we still wonder why we’ve got Muslim brothers calling for a separate state? It is most incredulous that all the local government could do is to distribute to the community this powdered soup formula, sort of like oatmeal, that supposedly could supply the daily protein requirement of the human body. But they do not even have a source of potable water, much more a gas stove with which they can heat the water to prepare the formula!
It’s the irony of ironies that Saranggani’s representative is none other than the swashbuckling boxing star Manny Pacquiao himself, who, as we all know, is in the US at the moment for another boxing match and has recently got himself a 255,000-dollar Ferrari. If he really is as compassionate as his knuckles are strong, then he should focus more on improving the lives of his constituents rather than hosting inane game shows on TV.
And he next time you complain about slow service in the fast food, or the bland pasta served in the school cafeteria, remember that there are still people who couldn’t afford to eat rice and meat more than three times a year!